The language of wine: a glossary

When it comes to wine, there’s a lot to be said for speaking the language. Not only for impressing dinner party guests, getting your head around some key terminology means you’ll be able to accurately describe wine you’re tasting, as well as better understand what’s being recommended. You’ll be able to determine why you like certain wines more than others, and which flavours and aromas appeal to you. Pretty useful stuff, really!

Here are some key terms:

Acidity: Acids are found in the grapes and come out during the fermentation process – this is what gives wines a crisp or sharp taste.

Aftertaste: This is the taste that left on the palate after drinking wine. The aftertaste will also depend on which part of the tongue the wine has come into contact with.

Aroma: The scent of a wine.

Balance: The balance is when different compounds of the wine work together, and means no part of the wine is more overwhelming than the other.

Blend: When wine is made from different grapes with the aim of adding more complexity to its flavour.

Body: This refers to the fullness of the wine and how it feels on your palate. There are three body types: light-bodied, medium-bodied, and full bodied. Light-bodied tends to be lighter on the palate with just a few simple flavours e.g. a Pinot Grigio. A full-bodied wine has a much more complex flavour and will feel ‘heavier’ on the palate, e.g. a Zinfandel.

Bouquet: This refers to the aroma of a wine as a result of the ageing and fermentation process.

Breathing: When wine is exposed to oxygen. This takes place while the wine is decanting.

Complexity: Describes different components of the wine such as flavour, balance, fullness etc.

Corked: Used when wine has been contaminated with cork taint. The wine can still be consumed but it won’t taste as it should, and can be unpleasant.

Crisp: Often present in white wines, this is when the wine is high in acidity. This is normally identified by sharp and zesty flavours with a clean finish.

Decanting: When wine is poured into a decanter and allowed to ‘breathe’ before it is consumed.

Dry: When a wine is described as dry it means that it has no residual sugar, and therefore doesn’t taste sweet.

Earthy: Often associated with red wines, this term is used to describe wine that has earthy aromas, so flavours associated typically with soil.

Flight: A tasting flight describes a selection of wines, which can typically be anything between three and eight glasses.

Floral: Wine that has floral notes means that the flavour and aroma can be likened to flowers. This is particularly common with white wines.

Fruity: When wine has flavours and aromas associated with fruits e.g. cherries, strawberries, raspberries.

Grassy: As suggested in the name, this is when wine has any sort of taste or scent associated with grass, vegetables or even lemongrass.

Hybrid: When two different grape types are crossed to make wine.

Legs: When tasting wine, it is swirled around the glass. The legs are the residue left around the side of the glass. More legs indicate a higher alcohol content.

Nose: The ‘nosing’ or ‘smelling’ of wine is when the scents are picked up and the wine is interpreted through smell.

New World: New World wines are those that come from outside of the areas where winemaking first originated. These include regions such as the United States, Australia, South Africa, Chile, Argentina and New Zealand.

Oaky: When the aroma and flavour of wine comes from being aged or fermented in oak barrels. Oaked Chardonnays go through this process.

Old World: Old World wines are those that come from areas where winemaking first originated. These regions include Europe and some parts of North Africa.

Oxidised: When wine has been exposed to air for too long and starts to lose its flavour, colour and aroma, which is why it’s recommended that each bottle is stored correctly.

Palate: This refers to how the wine tastes on different sections of the tongue.

Round: Describes wine that has an extremely smooth texture.

Soft: Wine with enough sugar to dominate acidity and tannin levels, therefore stripping it of any hardness or harshness.

Spicy: The aroma or flavour of spice found in a wine. These can be associated with pepper, clove, cinnamon, cardamom or ginger for example.

Sweet: Dessert wines often fall under this category and are normally defined by the taste of sugar across the palate.

Tannins: Found in grape stems and seeds, tannins soak in the grape juice just after the grapes have been pressed and are what give certain wines dryness or that puckering sensation in the mouth.

Transparency: When wine portrays all the unique components of its flavour such as fruity, floral and mineral notes.

Terroir: Refers to natural aspects such as a region’s climate, topography and soil, and how this affects the taste of the wine.

Vintage: Most bottles of wine will display the date the grapes were grown and harvested. This is how you can tell how old the wine is.